For the first time in its history, Chicago and its surrounding metropolitan areas are witnessing something that hasn’t happened since 1415: The election of a new pope after a papal resignation. It has been ten days since Pope Benedict XVI officially stepped down as pope, and the process of electing a pope, known as the Conclave, has yet to begin. Fortunately, it has been widely announced that the Conclave will commence in two days, March 12th. The announced date in this unusual transition of popes is a good indication that even though there are no obvious front-runners, the electing cardinals have somewhat of an idea who best among them can take the baton and lead the Catholic Church.
According to U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a papal candidate, the new pope will need to address the “big issues” being discussed in closed-door meetings covering “preaching and teaching the Catholic faith, tending to Catholic schools and hospitals, protecting families and the unborn, supporting priests and getting more of them.”[i] Although these big issues should be on the top of all Catholics interests, many of Chicagoland’s Catholics and non-Catholics are also undoubtedly interested in another thing: ethnicity.
Since the Chicagoland area is a huge melting pot of ethnic cultures, certain groups are wondering about the chances of “their” candidate becoming the new Pope. Some are likely to place ethnicity above the list of “big issues” mentioned above. Remember the excitement and exhilaration that swept Chicago’s Polish community when Pope John Paul II was elected?
Given the shockwave that resulted with Pope Benedict XVI’s age-related resignation, it might be safe to say that age also will be on the minds of the electing cardinals. Since age 80 is the cutoff age for when a cardinal can longer vote for a new pope, it may also be safe to say that a candidate approaching 80 years of age will unlikely become pope. If you were to subtract the number of cardinals who turn 80 within the next 5 years, the number of candidates become 66.
According to a recent Reuters article, “Several names are often mentioned as ‘papabile’ (potential pope).[ii] These dozen names represent the countries of Italy (Scola & Ravasi), Brazil (Sherrer & Aviz), Canada (Ouellet), United States of America (Dolan & O’Malley), Philippines (Tagle), Hungary (Erdo), Argentina (Sandri), Austria (Schoenborn) and Ghana (Turkson). Ireland needs to be included since Cardinal O’Malley is of Irish heritage. Each of these countries (especially Italy, Ireland and the Philippines) has a large number of its people calling the Chicagoland area their present home.
“The selection of Polish-born John Paul II in 1979 shows that the ‘unthinkable’ can occur once the cardinals are closed off in the conclave.” - John Thavis, Vatican analyst
After 35 years of Polish and German popes, will the 27 Italian cardinals, who represent nearly a quarter of the votes, influence an Italian pope? Or will there be a Barack-Obama-like milestone with the election of the first black pope? Perhaps the second youngest candidate (age 55) from the Philippines will do the unimaginable and become the first Asian pope. And what about the first American pope?
Imagine the excitement within the Chicagoland ethnic community whose ethnic representative becomes the new pope. Whoever becomes the new pope, be sure that the people from his ethnicity will be rejoicing throughout the streets of Chicago.
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